A criminal trial may be heard by a judge (in misdemeanors) or by a judge or jury (in felonies). Trials before judges may take as little as a few hours; trials in front of juries my last as weeks or months. A criminal trial is the logical end to a criminal charge in that the accused has an absolute right to a trial before being convicted of a criminal offense. In most cases, a person has the right a criminal defense lawyer, whether privately employed by the defendant, or appointed by the court to represent the defendant if the person is deemed to be poor or indigent by the court.
Preparing for Trial
The North Carolina constitution says that everyone charged in the criminal system has the right to a jury trial. Jury trials take place in Superior Court. Some might be surprised to know that not all trials, in fact the majority, are not jury trials but rather "bench" trials that are presided over by a single judge.
95% of cases in the United States are resolved by plea rather than by trial. The Chetson Firm prefer to take cases to trial whenever possible and whenever appropriate. The reason that so many cases end in plea has to do with the facts and the risks. In partnership with your defense attorney, the facts of the case will be evaluated to determine the case strengths and weaknesses and how much risk is involved in allowing a judge or jury to make a final determination of your guilt or innocence. Sometimes an appeal of a misdemeanor conviction to Superior Court is advisable because a jury is required to deliver a unanimous verdict of guilt for a conviction, and if there are questionable facts to a case, that can work in your favor.
Misdemeanor cases are first tried in District Court in front of a judge who determines guilt or innocence.
Because of North Carolina's constitutional right to a jury trial, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor in District Court, you have a right to appeal your case to Superior Court to have a jury trial.
Felony cases can be resolved by plea or deferral agreement in District Court, but any and all felony trials will automatically be jury trials in Superior Court.
Jury trials are recorded and appeals from Superior Court are made to either the NC Court of Appeals or the NC Supreme Court.
Overall, trials in District Court are easier for a criminal attorney to prepare for and tend to also take less time from beginning to end. Superior Court trials are complex and time consuming. It is for this reason that many defense lawyers will quote both a District Court fee as well as a Superior Court fee in case a case cannot be resolved in the lower court.